A Queensland schoolgirl, Jessica Watson, who turns 16 next week, from Buderim on the Sunshine Coast, has launched both her quest and the yacht she plans to skipper to become the youngest person to sail solo non-stop and unassisted around the world.
Watson, who has been sailing since she was eight, plans to set sail from Brisbane in mid-September on an eight month, 23,000 nautical mile voyage, around Cape Horn and through the notorious Southern Ocean aboard her 10.4m (34’) sloop, YOUNGESTROUND.COM
'It’s a dream come true to finally have a boat even though it needs a lot of work, so now I can start to really focus on the challenge ahead,' Jessica said.
'It’s only natural that I will be a little nervous and scared when I am out there, but that’s the great attraction of solo sailing – testing yourself to your limits. Mum and Dad are right behind me and I’m hoping to inspire other young Australian girls to live their dreams,' she said.
If successful, Jessica will complete the voyage by April 2010 while she is still 16 years of age beating the current world record holder, Australian Jesse Martin, who was 18 at the time of his historic voyage in 1999. Her yacht is a classic Sparkman & Stephens design, the same type used by Jesse Martin and well proven in the unpredictable and stormy Southern Ocean.
Still seeking a naming sponsor for her voyage, Jessica has enjoyed early support from Australian adventurers Don and Margie McIntyre who are full of praise for the 15 year old sailor. The McIntyre’s, from Tasmania, are well known for their sailing and Antarctic expeditions (Don has sailed solo around the world) and have purchased the yacht for Jessica and provided much of the equipment she will use.
'This will be a tough challenge for Jessica, but we really believe she is up to it which is why we’ve backed her spirit of adventure and provided the boat and other support,' Don McIntyre said.
'She has a steely determination and is already a skilled and experienced sailor which puts her in a great position to achieve her goal. Her maturity and organizational skills are way beyond her years,' Don said. The yacht, YOUNGESTROUND.COM was launched at the Rivergate Marina and Shipyard in Brisbane and will be on display at the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show, before being stripped for a two month refit ahead of her departure.
Jessica’s mum Julie and dad, Roger Watson have both left their full-time jobs to support their daughter in her extraordinary endeavour. Jessica, the second eldest of four children in the Watson family (Emily, 17, Tom, 13 and Hannah, 11) enjoys the full support of her entire family.
'I’m feeling really good about it all, the hardest part so far was getting the project up and running. Jessica has put in an enormous amount of work to get this far and the people who have supported her are just outstanding. They keep telling her she can do it but I think she knew it all along,' mum Julie, 45, an occupational therapist, said.
Her father Roger, 47, a real estate agent, said he was fully behind his daughter’s quest.
'I’ve probably only just come to terms with the project even though it has been going to happen for years. The day she told, well, asked me what she wanted to do is very vivid in my mind. You have to give her all the support you can, even though we won’t get much sleep for eight months!,' dad Roger said.
During the next months, Jessica will take leave of absence from her studies at Cairns School of Distance Education to focus on preparing for the voyage including detailed preparation in navigation, communications and electronics and safety procedures.
Jessica’s 16th birthday is on May 18, so the clock is ticking as she hopes to complete the voyage before her 17th birthday.
Departing from Brisbane, Watson’s course will be North East, up into the Pacific crossing the Equator, then turning way down south to round the treacherous Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America, followed by many months crossing the Southern Ocean in the 50 degree latitudes headed for the southern cape of Tasmania before turning north again and sailing up the east coast of Australia to Brisbane.
There is already a growing list of supporters joining Jessica’s adventure, but she is still searching for a major naming sponsor to help with expenses and communications for an outreach program to schools focusing on environmental protection of the oceans. She is aiming to raise at least $100,000 over the next few months.
There are currently two male solo sailors attempting to break the 'youngest' record, Brit Mike Perham who is 17 years, www.totallymoney.com/sailmike
and American Zac Sunderland, 17 years, www.zacsunderland.com
More information about Jessica’s amazing voyage can be found at www.youngestround.com